Check out these prayers of thanksgiving from a wide variety of religious and philosophical traditions. Stay warm!
I have heard Jesus’ famous statement in Matthew 18 about becoming like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven many times, but this verse has taken on special meaning for me over the last few months. Unlike many other seminary students who use their long summer break to take extra classes, work for a local parish, or even complete their Clinical Pastoral Education–I decided to take another route. I have spent the entire summer babysitting.
I work for a few families each week and, with some other odd jobs here and there, have managed to make it a more than full-time gig. To be honest, babysitting has been more challenging than any other job I’ve held. Of course it is fun and enriching in many ways, but it can also be draining, frustrating, and confusing. When Jesus instructed us to become like little children did he mean that we should throw temper tantrums when our caretakers refuse to buy us ice cream (after we already had an ice cream earlier in the day!)? Did Jesus mean that we should refuse to go to bed until someone has read us every single book we own, sung us all of our favorite songs, and made several trips to the kitchen to get us water and snacks even after we’ve brushed our teeth? Did Jesus mean we should refuse to share our toys with other kids at the park, or say mean things to our siblings? Okay, enough complaining. I know that Jesus meant he wanted us to become trusting, open-hearted, and earnest in that way that is difficult for even the most thoughtful adults, but seems to come to kids so naturally. Jesus wanted us to have the kind of awe for God’s creation that is part of each child’s journey through the world. But maybe Jesus also knew that children don’t always fit the angelic trope that many readers of Matthew 18 would like them to. Children fight, lie, cheat, and do mean things, just like the rest of us.
Matthew 18:4 continues: “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus actually instructs us to become “humble” or “lowly” like children, to become small. Despite their eccentricities, children are undeniably humble. They ask tons of questions and they aren’t afraid to say so when they don’t understand. They let their curiosity and their imaginations lead them into new relationships and new experiences, regardless of difference. One of the girls I babysit makes friends everywhere we go by approaching a child and asking: “How old are you?” After the child answers, she says: “Oh, I’m four. Not four and a half, just four. Do you want to play with me?” She is bold and confident, but so completely childlike in her direct approach to friendship.
I think we Christians can learn from children as we explore interfaith cooperation. As we strive to become like children, let us learn to take a couple steps back. Let’s ask questions, let’s seek out new friendships without letting our judgments and intellects get in the way; let’s figure out how to play and work together.
If you’re looking for a mid-week sermon fix, check out this powerful message delivered by Barbara Brown Taylor at Riverside Church in New York City last Sunday.
Here’s a preview: “I became a Christian in my twenties and I was always told to get my beliefs in order before I did things…but based on the story of the Good Samaritan, I wonder if things don’t work the other way around. Maybe our lives are designed to upset our beliefs, not to reinforce them.” Click on the link to hear the whole sermon: “The Right Answer”
What does eating have to do with evangelism? If you grew up going to church, then you likely grew up attending church potlucks (or pitch-ins, or covered dishes—or, whatever they were called in your hometown). Christian churches everywhere host meals on special occasions or following worship in the spirit of fellowship. This practice is rooted in one of the basic tenets of our faith—that when we break bread together we are celebrating the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who offered us his flesh and blood (bread and cup) as a sign of his covenant with humanity. In order to follow Christ, we Christians eat together.
Long before Jell-O salad and deviled eggs, Christian communities came together to share the Lord’s Supper. But early Christians didn’t always break bread in the spirit Jesus showed. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul admonishes the followers of Christ in Corinth for eating in an unfaithful way: “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.”
In order to observe the Lord’s Supper, Paul points out that we cannot merely gather together; we have to gather in a spirit of hospitality and humility. No one can go hungry or thirsty at the Lord’s Supper. Paul goes on to say: “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation.” My New Testament professor, Dr. Brigette Kahl, says that the very definition of what it means to be Christian is to be a “co-eater”. To be a Christian is to eat with others; to wait for others; to sacrifice our own comfort for the comfort of others; to be one who sets a wide table at which everyone is welcome. For Paul, this is no small command. Those who eat in an “unworthy manner” will face judgment and risk condemnation.
In our religiously diverse world, Christians are called to eat and fellowship with those of all faith traditions and backgrounds. We are called to extend the Lord’s Table beyond the church walls in order to make the example and teachings of Jesus a reality in our world. Interfaith cooperation is about being with others; in Christian terms, it is about eating with others. Evangelicals and all Christians embody the life and sacrifice of Jesus when we seek communion with all of the “others” around us, despite our differences.
Faith Line Protestants is excited to feature a new voice in our discussion on Christians in the interfaith movement. Anne Marie Roderick is a graduate of Earlham College where she was an active member of Earlham Christian Fellowship. She is also an alum of the Interfaith Youth Core’s Fellows Alliance and now serves as an editorial assistant with Sojourners Magazine in Washington, D.C.
Jim Wallis is famous for saying that Christian faith should be personal, but never private. In other words, the personal relationship we have with God—the one we hold in our hearts—should reflect itself in the world as a public testament of our commitment to Christ.
When I began college in 2007, I was in the middle of a process of returning to faith. I had recently begun to read the Bible and pray regularly on my own and for the first time in a long time I felt that I had a personal relationship with God. As the presence of God grew within me I couldn’t help but let that spirit spill out into the world. I committed to attending church each week as I had done with my family when I was younger; I joined the Christian fellowship group at my school; I volunteered to help out at various campus ministry events; and I began to reflect on how to bring the spirit of Christ into my relationships with friends and family, and into my classwork.
I took a course during my second semester called Contemporary Religious Movements and Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith was on the syllabus. As I read this inspiring story of a young Muslim man finding his faith again I felt as though I was reading my own story. I too was trying to figure out how I fit into my religious tradition. Like Eboo Patel, I cared about how the stories of my faith were being told in media around the world. And I wanted to build peace and understanding across difference. I had grown up in New York City in a religiously diverse community and I had close friends who were Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and atheists; yet, as a child and teenager I had done little to stop it when I watched those friends get teased and harassed for their religious heritage. Now, as a Christian, I wanted to do better than that. I wanted to be better than that.
In the Gospels, we read about a Jesus who constantly breaks social barriers in order to model for us a radical life of love, compassion, and forgiveness. How can we, as Christians, reflect that mission in our lives today? I got involved with interfaith work through the Interfaith Youth Core and on my campus and I found that I became a stronger, more faithful Christian because of it. What’s a better place to model the Christian spirit than in a diverse setting with people of other faith backgrounds? Christians involved in interfaith work become representatives of Christian faith—not for doctrine or theology, but for the spirit of love, grace and reconciliation to which Christ calls us. As I listened to the stories of those around me answers to the deep questions I had about my own faith became clearer. As I built and strengthened relationships with people of other religious traditions, my relationship to God became stronger. While my faith initially inspired me to do interfaith work, I continue to be involved in these efforts because interfaith work enhances my faith and my commitment to serving the mission of Jesus.